Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Teeny Weeny Halloweeny

It's little troopers that look the cutest for when they're all dolled up in their little costumes begging for candy, and even the little pooches sometimes get caught up in the action, through no fault of their own. Then some people go wacky on the other end of things, getting the stage set at home for the little candy-beggars to arrive. And now, it's a startling thought that some people are already putting up their other holiday decorations. Got your shopping done?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Playaway Style

If you've gone through the trouble of loading books on CD into your mp3 player so you could enjoy Huck Finn on your jog, you might enjoy what might seem to be a step backwards in technology--a dedicated, single-book device. It's the Playaway, an electronic book that our library has bought into.

My first trial was a success, though Bill Bryson's reading of A Short History of Nearly Everything was a little less clear than I'd like. Either that, or the sound quality on the device is a little muddy.

Either way, the device brings books into a simple, stand-alone device. It worked well on my jog, and I look forward to trying it again.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another Weekend

This evening marks the end of another weekend, one that featured some good fiction and poetry, some work and a presentation, and more work and a good meeting, then a quiet evening.

Last night was our first frost, with the temperature at 27 degrees when I took the pooch out this morning. The tomato plants felt it, but nothing else much seemed affected, except for the bright yellow-leafed maple tree out front, the last one with a full head of foliage. When I went out to get the paper, there it was, giving up its leaves like a slot machine kicking out quarters, or a fountain sprinkling the lawn with its brilliant leaf cover. So I got the camera out and filmed a little action as the tree gave up its gold. I'll try to put it up here a bit later.

Friday the B's and I zipped on down to Vermillion to hear Brian Bedard read a new story, then to join him and the B's and poet Dave Evans and his wife Jan. Good stuff. A night at the motel, and the morning at the John R. Milton Conference listening to Phil Block, Dennis Sjolie, and John Dudley spin their analytical positions, while I gave my take on Indians in video and computer games. More good stuff. Lunch with conferees at the National Music Museum, then a ride back home again to Madison. A quick trip to see DSU get its back pockets handed to it on Trojan Field, then some work, and a quiet night with friends.

Sunday I stayed in and graded papers, then ran the Lake County Historical Society annual meeting where Kelli Wollman sang us some old tunes and we awarded our first Krueger Awards. We're riding the wave of our highest membership yet--215 people.

Sunday evening's been quiet with a little work.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You Say It's Your Birthday

It's the wife's big birthday today, so send birthday greetings her way if you see her or have her email (she'll also take well wishes here too, so feel free to comment). It will be her birthday all day.

Her mom called this morning to wish her well, and she told the story again of loading hogs the day before and being run over by a wild pig, falling on her belly, and lying in bed later wondering whether her little babe was still okay. Born with a bruise on her butt, the babe was otherwise fine, growing into a fine, still-young woman.

She shares a birthday with Pablo Picasso 1881, Minnie Pearl (Sarah Ophelia Colley) 1912, Bobby Knight 1940, Ann Tyler 1941, Helen Reddy 1942, Matthais Jabs (The Scorpions) 1955, Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) 1962, Ed Robertson (Barenaked Ladies) 1970. And, in an event that has changed the lives of people throughout the world, today is the anniversary of the introduction of the microwave oven, for home use, by The Tappan Company in 1955.

Now you know.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

An Attack on Vine Country

The encroaching vines got a big dose of setback today as I did some species cleansing in the lilac bushes, digging, chopping, and pulling trees, shrubs, and especially vines out of what is supposed to be a section for lilacs. The foliage now seems thinner, but next spring I hope to see a thicker crop of lilac bushes.
I moved a few trees, too, and tidied up the yard. Four days of rain had put the grass in overdrive, and I found these mushrooms back in the trees. The wood reminded me of Frost's poem "The Woodpile,"
with the lines, "I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself."
The old wood, some of it from an old apple tree in the yard, was giving off the enchanting, musky odor of apple wine, damp and delicious. After a beautiful day, some of it outside, my thoughts often turning to the moment, five years ago, when my wife and I first held hands, I was pleased to turn to the house, its back light lit, the day fading, a good day of work done.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Conjunction of English Majors

Well, what DO you call a group of English majors? A collaboration? A paragraph? An edition? A collection? We do have a capital group of English majors. They came to our house last night and I think had a very good time, met some professors and other students they hadn't had a chance to talk to yet, and devoured some good eats. Maybe it was the free food that got them here, but they enjoyed each other's company, you could tell. There was evidence, plenty of examples, a fully developed essay full of examples--easy talk, loud talk, game-play, and plenty of laughter. These aren't the greatest pictures, and we missed a few people, but we hope the word spreads that this group deserves an exclamation point.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Our Own Mr. Bundy

He might be married, with children, but our Mr. Bundy, DSU's Director of Student Development, didn't talk about being a good spouse or parent today in his convocation speech at DSU. Rather, he discussed how technology and attitude can make a significant difference in a person's life. He developed his presentation with references to his own experiences in this regard, primarily about how the obstacle of his sightlessness has been addressed by technology and how he has made use of it. He also told a story about a defining moment in his life came about, as he realized he had to choose between taking charge of his life or letting things be done for him. He chose to stand and wipe his tears away, venturing out into the unknown as he took on the challenge of making his life what he wanted it to be. Laced with humor and pathos, the address brought the audience to its feet. The speech is available here. Thanks, Keith.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Coming Up!

Tomorrow we're hosting a little get-together for English majors and faculty, and I hope things keep the right balance between raucous and genteel, rowdy and urbane. Somewhere in the middle is best for me. Look for pictures here tomorrow or soon after.

I've also got some other things going on. DSU, lead by our own Dan Weinstein, is hosting the GPACW Conference on November 8 and 9, where I'll be presenting at with my international fellow-traveler TQ, who will arrive from the frozen north. We'll be talking about how we use Web 2.0 technology to help students with bibliographies and gathering information. Come and join us!

I'll be doing a solo thing on October 27 down at USD for the John R. Milton Conference "East Meets (the American) West," where I'll talk about the research I'm doing on electronic games and Native Americans.

Also, I just sent off a proposal for the symposium on "Death, Murder, and Mayhem: Healing and Violence on the Great Plains" in Lincoln, Nebraska, in April. I hope they let me come down there.

Finally, I've gotten some funding from DSU's own Center for Excellence for work on my Native American and games research. Cool.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

An Attraction to the Old and Broken

Some people like new things, the flashy and shiny and fresh-out-of-the-box, things that work like they're supposed to, with warranties in case they don't and repair shops and experts that stand by the ready if the gadget doesn't gadge or the do-dad doesn't do. But I'm one of those whose attention is drawn to the car back in the tree row, the one with its tires flat and its hood missing, with torn seats and rusted floorboards. My ownership of cars includes a list of these sad-sacks, a 1959 Chevy with a bad fuel pump, a 1957 Chevy pickup piled with trash when I found it, a 1980 BMW that sat on the back lot of the Big Lot in Fargo until my son and I came along to fund its revival. Motorcycles too, like the Honda SL 100 that appeared to me at a garage sale; all it needed was the engine unstuck and worked over, same for the Yamaha Jazz that the kids enjoyed, and the Honda XL 350 I salvaged from the ravages of flood waters. Then there was the trio of Honda 350's I bought at a garage sale for 25 bucks, one of which actually ran some time later. I've had my fling at restoring dead vehicles to life.

So it's no surprise that down at the local flea market, a 1957 Mobylette keeps attracting my attention. It's not the zippy sort of scooter you see so often these days, requiring, as you see in the photo, a readiness to actually pedal the machine to life. The French have a different take on things, and it could look good, as you can see here. But I do hear it calling my name; after all, it's a long ways from home and could use a friend.

A Spot on the Radio

Yours truly recently had a moment on the state public radio station's program Food for Thought, discussing with Julia Monczunski Ivan Doig's book The Whistling Season, a book I led discussion of here in Madison. I was part of a program that included poet Andy Thorstensen and SD Humanities Council chair Fee Jacobson. Hear the program by following this link.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Work, the Work, the Working Life

Springsteen chronicles the working life, but it's something a little less metropolitan and even less industrial that I have in mind, as I describe the work I did today, getting rid of the last remnants of the old willow tree and making some long-delayed progress on the "beverage room" in the new house. Compare, if you will, the previous photo of the fallen willow, with the one here, where little remains, the area marked by the lack of grass alone. In my second photo, a happy clown marks the spot where a tiny lilac bush had already volunteered to replace the fading willow.

Meanwhile, it appeared that some volunteer lilac bushes were appearing in the rose gardens, so those volunteers have been recruited for service along the perimeter between us and the house to the west. As I write, those volunteers are being supplied with ample water supplies, along with the nourishment I supplied.

Secondly, the second and third photos show the room that's been under construction since almost the first day we arrived, and now the nail holes are full and the whole has been primed for a new paint, texture, or whatever remains for it. On Wednesday, English majors from DSU will arrive and have a chance to look things over, so they'll see some work done, not knowing what things looked like when we arrived. They'll look better yet, as texture and paint awaits.

A Leaf in Suspension

Walking out to the mailbox this morning, I spotted this leaf caught in the act of falling. I'm sure the wind will soon finish the job, but for now the leaf appears to be arrested in its fall. It reminded me of the e.e. cummings poem about a leaf falling.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Someone Knew, and Said So

Here is an audio recording of some prescient students making their predictions for their teacher's marathon attempt. Courtesy of DW.

Recovering, Moving Forward

The wife and I went for a short recovery run on Monday and met our two Chinese guests of DSU out at Lake Herman, Fan Tang, at left, and Bei Zhao on the right. I was feeling pretty stiff, but I managed to make it the 2.5 miles around the loop. By today I'm feeling much better.

Last night we had the biggest group yet in our new house, folks who were there for a Pampered Chef party. People left happy, I think (though I removed myself for most of the evening in my office upstairs), and full, with the expectation of their fine new cooking utensils on their way.

Monday, October 08, 2007

It Could Have Been Worse

After finishing the Twin Cities Marathon, I called my mother in law, who was worried that I might keel over and croak on the marathon course, and told her she could postpone my funeral, but the second half of the race was so tough for me that a quiet ceremony in a cool parlor might have been a good idea. It was hot out there, and humid, but like most people who entered, I managed to get to the finish line (with a little hustle in the home stretch to beat some big guy who seemed to have been air-lifted in just to taunt me in my last 100 meters).

As I mentioned before, I was hoping for a Boston Marathon qualifying time (3:35), which might have been possible in good weather, and I was on pace for it with a 1:45 first half (about 8-minute miles), but then things started to unravel as the heat seemed to press in. The second half , which included a lot of walking, was 20 minutes slower for a finish of 3:55:48 (chip time). Anyway, it was a little disappointing, even though it was clear days before that a good race was not in the cards. I've only run one marathon slower, and that was one with my old running partner Mark F., who was running the Omaha Marathon with little training, and I stuck with him, also running a little thin on training.

Still, it went okay, and I got to see Laura Carrow, a graduate from DSU with an English degree and a good runner who in her senior year here was a speed demon. Having her spot me in the line for the porta-potties before the race helped make up for the half-hour wait. My daughter April, her guy Chester, and the wife showed up at points throughout the course to urge me on, and we had some fun with that, and the weekend included going to a movie with my son Casey.

Plus, the marathon didn't fare as badly as the one in Chicago yesterday, where it was 87 degrees and they called off the race about three and a half hours in after people were "falling all over the city" according to the Chicago Sun-Times article.

So what now? I'm thinking about another marathon this fall, maybe the one in November in Overland Park.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It's TCM Day

Today's the day. We'll soon take off for the Metrodome, where the Twin Cities Marathon begins on a day that is a fall treasure if you're not planning to run 26.2 miles. It's supposed to be 80 degrees today and is already 74 at 6:30 in the morning. The race starts at 8:00, and by 11:35 I hope to be done.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Inside the Willow Tree

You might be surprised at what you'd find inside an old willow tree that finally gives up, one day in the wind, when the only branches it has left collapse into the rose bushes, like an old man who lays down one last time to take a whiff of the roses before he dies. It was a good smell, I noticed, as I cut away the branches, lopped the trunk into sections I could handle with the wheel barrow. There was mint in the garden, a smell of fresh soil like a new grave. I draped the willow branches over the pickup truck until it looked like a haystack had fallen into the bed. I looked at the trunk still standing and it too looked weary enough to fall, so I leaned into it hard until it moaned, and I leaned again, and one more time I leaned and it let out a kind of whoosh as it fell and the rotten center scattered, the pieces full of holes the bugs had made. Soft inside like a soggy tree-bed, it wasn't a tree at all, it seemed, but a standing sponge with bark on it, its center gone and filled with what seemed to be the richest soil on earth. I thought of Queequeg reaching into the head of the whale for its ambergris as I lifted handfuls out and tossed them to the roses. My back sore and enough of the tree gone so I could quit, I returned to take these pictures as the setting sun lit the lilacs, now on their last legs of the year.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Willow Falls

We've been wondering what to call our big new house, and we've been using the name August House, since we moved in here in August and we kind of like the sound of it, but today the wind came up and made me wonder whether a new name was in order--Willow Falls.

The big willow tree in the back yard, an old timer more than a yard across, went down today, probably when the big wind came up over noon hour and switched directions. But it could have been any time, and it was due. The wife wasn't expecting anything like this when she arrived home this afternoon, and she called me to tell me the news. When I got home it was just as you see it here, keeled over and fallen into the rose bushes. That's how things lie in the back yard. I'll probably cut most of it out of there tomorrow.

The poor old thing didn't have much going for it any more. The wood the fall exposed was soft as sponges, and only about six inches of the trunk appears to have been alive. When I haul things out of there tomorrow, much of it just as well be hauled off with a scoop shovel it's so soft. But still heavy. I'm glad it didn't fall the other way.

I write this now at the end of the Ken Burns series on The War, on PBS. We watched much of it, though other things lie pressing for attention. The last episode saw the end come for the Germans and the Japanese armies both. Like the wind in our our tree, the impact of war had eaten away the strength of the two opposing armies, and there was nothing much left standing, so when the armies came pressing in, at some point the whole thing came down and brought an end to conflict.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Aiming Again for the Indian in the Console

I'm committed again to posting to my research blog, now linked from these pages, where I pursue a long-term project on examining Native American imagery in computer and video games.

If you have any tips on the presence of such items in games that you play, especially new ones, please drop me a line!